Legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress in March 2012 to block proposed safety rules for child farmworkers will endanger children who work on farms, said advocates from the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), representing more than two dozen organizations concerned with protecting working youth. The group called on the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to implement immediately its proposed updates to safety rules listing dangerous agricultural tasks that are off limits to hired child farmworkers.
“The Department of Labor’s proposed safety rules are rooted in expert research and designed to protect child farmworkers,” said Sally Greenberg, the executive director of the National Consumers League and the co-chair of the CLC. “Agriculture has long been exempt from many child labor and occupational safety protections granted to all other industries. As new farm equipment is developed and our knowledge of pesticides and other risks to children evolve, it only makes sense to update the list of tasks that employers should not be allowed to hire children to do.”
The 15 proposed rules—known as “hazardous occupation orders”—would, for the first time in decades, update the list of farm tasks considered too dangerous for children under age 16 working for hire. New restrictions would include operating certain heavy machinery, working in silos and grain storage facilities, and handling pesticides.
Bill S. 2221, introduced on March 21 by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), would stop the Labor Department from issuing the occupational child safety rules. A version was introduced March 7 in the House (H.R. 4157) by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), with the misleading title, “Preserving America’s Family Farms Act.”
The Department of Labor has long held responsibility for restricting employers from hiring children to do tasks that are considered hazardous. In agriculture, those restrictions lift at age 16; while in all other jobs, hazardous work cannot be done until age 18. The rules do not apply to children working on farms owned or operated by their parents, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said at a House hearing recently that she intends to expand the “parental exemption” to allow children to work without safety restriction on farms owned by other relatives.
Agricultural exemptions to U.S. child labor law allow children to work for hire at age 12 on any farm with their parents’ consent. There is no minimum age for children to work on small farms.